Welcome to the office of Dr. Mark Stahl, formerly the office of Dr. Victor Estrada. We remain dedicated to providing the same exceptional care to our patients!

Breathing Better, Part I: What is Asthma?

An illustration of a lung and an asthma inhaler surrounded by illustrations of various asthma triggers

May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. In the upcoming weeks, we will present a series of blog posts on asthma as a disease, triggers, and treatment options. For more specific questions, please schedule an appointment to discuss with Dr. Stahl, or a certified allergist near you.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic, or long-lasting, lung disease. It causes the airways inside the lungs to be swollen and produce lots of mucous. Airways also narrow and this can cause breathing to be difficult. Airways can also become super sensitive to various triggers.

Asthma often presents with wheezing, shortness of breath, cough, and/or tightness in the chest. Not everyone has the same symptoms. For some, cough may be the only symptom; not everyone will wheeze. Symptoms often occur at night or with exercise.

During normal breathing, air inhaled through the nose or mouth travels down the airway into the lungs and enters small air sacs where the oxygen is absorbed into the blood stream. When you breathe out, air containing carbon dioxide leaves the lungs in the opposite direction. A patient with asthma may have difficulty with that cycle of breathing as their airways become inflamed, produce mucous, and the muscles around the airways tighten to cause narrowing. This makes it more difficult for air to get in and out of the lungs.

What causes asthma?

Asthma is a complex disease, and we do not yet fully understand why certain patients get it. There is a component of family history that tends to play a role. There are also several triggers for asthma. These triggers will cause asthma patients, who have super-sensitive airways, to begin to have symptoms. Avoiding asthma triggers is an important part of asthma management.

Common asthma triggers
     Infections (colds, sinus infections)
     Cigarette smoke and air pollution
     Strong odors (cleaners, perfumes, hair sprays, etc.)
     Exercise
     Strong emotions (crying, laughing, stress)
     Changes in weather and temperature (cold air especially)
     Dust and house dust mites
     Pollen (trees, grasses, weeds)
     Molds (indoor/outdoor)
     Pets (cat, dogs, birds, etc.)

Control asthma: Don’t let asthma control you!

Currently, there is no cure for asthma, but it can be well controlled. Controlling asthma means patients should be able to do what anyone without asthma is able to do. This includes participating in sports and exercise, sleeping through the night without asthma symptoms, and experiencing no severe asthma attacks that require emergency room visits or hospitalizations. Working with a board-certified allergist to identify specific triggers and implement avoidance measures is the foundation of good asthma management. Allergic triggers (i.e.- pollen, dust mites, pets) affect over 75% of children, and over 50% of adults, with asthma and may not be as obvious as the other triggers outlined above. Further, choosing an effective medication regimen to control symptoms while minimizing side effects is also very important.

In our next blog, we will discuss asthma trigger avoidance and options for medication management.

Author
Dr. Stahl Dr. Mark C. Stahl, D.O. Dr. Stahl is a board-certified allergist at Apex Allergy and Asthma in San Antonio, Texas

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